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Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound?

Both Milford and Doubtful Sound are spectacular and you should explore at least one of them during your New Zealand vacation.  Which you visit and how depends on your itinerary, how much time you have and your own preference. 

Read the summaries here to help make your decision and talk to our travel consultants for their thoughts on which would work in best with your other holiday plans.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is the most famous of the fiords. It’s the only one that you can reach by driving yourself and the journey there is almost as spectacular as the fiord itself. 

The journey from Te Anau to Milford Sound is 119 km.  Allow 2 hours for the drive to Milford Sound, so that you can fully enjoy the beautiful mountain and forest scenery and the many stops along the way that take you on short walks to spectacular vantage points. Highlights on the road trip include the Mirror Lakes, the Chasm and the engineering feat of the Homer Tunnel. 

Once you reach Milford Sound you’ll be struck by the magnificent Mitre Peak and the steep bush-clad cliffs that were carved by glaciers eons ago.  There are a number of scenic cruises available that will take you the length of the fiord to the Tasman Sea and back.  Along the way you get up close to towering waterfalls and you might even see dolphins or the Fiordland crested penguin at certain times of year. 

Milford Sound is also home to the Milford Discovery Centre and Milford Deep Underwater Observatory, where you can descend 10 meters under the surface of the fiord to glimpse the unique marine life that live in the dark depths of the fiord, including rare Black Coral. 

Milford Sound can also be explored as a day trip from Queenstown.  From Queenstown you’ll travel by luxury coach to Milford Sound where you’ll enjoy a cruise on the fiord before returning to Queenstown that evening.  Alternatively you can take a scenic flight from Queenstown with the option to land at Milford Sound for a cruise before returning to Queenstown.  There is also an overnight cruise on Milford Sound so you can stay behind and experience the fiord once most visitors have left for the day.

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound is often called the ‘Sound of Silence’ and this is due partly to the fact it is in a very remote location and partly due to the limited number of visitors that can visit the fiord each day.    

Doubtful Sound cannot be reached by driving, instead this adventure starts in Manapouri which is located a short drive from Te Anau.  At Manapouri you board a boat that will take you across Lake Manapouri to the Manapouri Power Station.  Here you board a coach that takes you over the Wilmot Pass which was built to ferry supplies from the coast for the building of the Power Station.  This spectacular road journey is used by just a few tourist operators and fishing crews.  At the top of the pass you’ll stop for fantastic views over Doubtful Sound, before descending to Deep Cove. 

Now that you’ve reached the sound this pristine wilderness can be explored by boat cruise, kayak or for a once in a lifetime experience spend the evening on an overnight cruise in absolute peace and tranquility.  Doubtful Sound is the second largest fiord in New Zealand and the deepest, so there are large areas to explore with abundant lush green flora, and similar to Milford Sound, the chance to see dolphins and penguins.  Your return journey from Doubtful Sound back to civilization takes you back on the same scenic path you traveled to get there.